Smuggled ivory to Switzerland: Yet another shame to the nation (Tanzania)


Editor, The Guardian

Date Published

For any person familiar with the scanning procedures of luggage or cargo at the Julius Nyerere International Airport or lets say any other airport whose operations are up to standard may question how 262 kilogrammes of ivory can pass through the scanners undetected.
Under normal circumstances such abnormality may occur only if the equipment installed are malfunctioning or a person assigned to operate them happens to have intentionally or unintentionally ignored the results they bring out normally in the form of a detailed image.
Tanzania, once again, became the subject of discussion only about a week ago, and of course the debate rages on,  after an ivory haul worth over Sh800 million was seized at Zurich Airport in Switzerland on its way to a leading ivory products consumer in the Far East.
Preliminary investigations by local authorities here in Dar es Salaam and newspapers suggest that the plot to transport the trophies via the Julius Nyerere International Airport was properly planned and carefully executed.
The ivory was definitely destined for Far East according to the Zurich preliminary investigations as persons of Chinese origin with assistance of some local officials were involved in handling the cargo, taking a side route.
As the world marked the ‘World Elephant Day’ on Wednesday this week Tanzania  is among countries in the world that top the list of nations where elephant poaching is rampant and seemingly uncontrollable.
In June this year Minister for Natural Resources and Tourism Lazaro Nyalandu ordered a recount of elephants on the Ruaha-Ruangwa ecosystem in the southern part of the country after a survey showed jumbos in the zone had disappeared without clue of traceability.
 The minister said that there would be a second census in a year’s time after this first exercise carried out from April to December last year. The survey showed that more than 10,000 jumbos disappeared in the ecosystem, while in the 2013 census there were more than 20,000 elephants in the area.
A debate is now going on among conservationists, some express fear that Tanzania is bound to lose all her elephants in 10 years. Conservationists now state that in Africa there are 470,000 elephants while in 2006 the continent harboured 550,000 jumbos.
Containers of trophies in the recent past have been finding their ways to the outside world via our exit points, especially Dar es Salaam Port. Thanks to efforts taken by the government under former Minister for Transport Dr Harrison Mwakyembe, such cases diminished substantively.
The same efforts were taken by the minister in stepping up security at airports, measures that also saw some  government officials stationed at major gateways, including airports either being removed from duty or being transferred to other work stations.
Quite unfortunately the ivory haul intercepted at Zurich Airport mid last week passed through the Julius Nyerere International Airport, aboard a Swiss Air flight.
It would be recalled that it is that same airport through which drugs have been finding their way into and outside the country in recent years before affirmative action was taken to plug loopholes.
It is indeed disturbing and embarrassing for government officials trusted by the public to collude with foreigners to sabotage the country’s efforts to curb poaching and trading in ivory.
The question is: Aren’t there any other measures that may help to bring this situation to an end? Of course there are: all countries in the world should ban trading in ivory and its products and individual countries should enact punitive laws to deal with culprits.